The Mystical Factor in the Great Symbol of the Rosicrucians
By Francis Mayer
(Mercury- March 1930)
The old-time prospector bent on discovering gold, valued highly the many virtues of his humble assistant, the patient ass. Likewise, the Rosicrucian, bent to discover the gold of the alchemists, might profitably become familiar with the symbolism of the ass, because, after finding the ass in himself, he can find the gold sought for, also in himself. It is significant that this allegedly stupid quadruped was selected to carry Dionysus and, later on, Jesus, on their triumphal rides; that the astronomers honored it with a place amidst the stars of the constellation Cancer, while the Roman Catholic Church accepted it as one of the symbols of Jesus. Neither did later esoterists drop the ass.
Agrippa refers to it as an expressive symbol of the Materia Prima of the alchemists, while Maier packs important arcana into the description of the parentage of the mules. The very fact, indeed, that this most constant bearer of the cross is considered by the masses to be the most stupid among the domestic animals, which the ass certainly is not, might attract the investigation-minded Rosicrucian, who recollects the motto to which Christian Rosenkreutz, the hero of the Chymical Marriage, gives such a prominence: “Summa scientia nihil scire,” highest science to know nothing.
The eminently spiritual, which means intellectual, character of this foolish motto, that has by no means lost its validity, will be elucidated further on. Before this, the relations of the ass to the healing power of the Rose have to be investigated, as they are revealed in the Masterpiece of Apuleius: “Metamorphoses, or the Golden Ass.”
This work is read, perhaps more than understood, so it will be sufficient to recapitulate its Leitmotive. A young man of the tribe of the Sons of Light, as is indicated by his name, Lucius, travels to Thessalia, the center of the art of magic, although mostly black magic. Lucius wants to learn and is evidently acquainted with the Platonic procedure of how to gain immortality by ascending, step by step, toward communion with Beauty in Itself. He starts ardently on the lower rung of his long ladder, which is knowing Beauty in its embodied forms by falling in love with Photis, the pretty handmaid of his hostess, who is a young heart in an aged body and who intensifies her adventures with the means the higher kind of sorcery offers. Phos is Greek and Lux is Latin for light, therefore the names Lucius and Photis indicate a natural affinity between the two.
The practical initiation into the lesser mysteries of the lowest rung and of magic, as conferred by Photis on Lucius proceeds until the latter becomes a dreamer in the old Thessalonian sense. Lucius wants to be able to transform himself, at will, into a bird to soar freely above the clouds and forget that man is an earthbound animal. He begs Photis to administer to him the unguent, which the sorceress uses for the same purpose. However, Photis unfortunately selects the wrong jar and instead of becoming a bird, our hero is transformed into an ass. Some such metamorphoses are said to happen even nowadays, whenever affinities try the platonic ladder and tarry too long on the first rung, however times change. Only Lucius’ body transformed to that of an ass, his mind remaining human and producing human thoughts, while it is said that in modern cases the body of the man remains human and the mind undergoes the unexpected transformation.
Photis assured Lucius that the misfortune could be remedied easily if he were only to eat a few roses, which would restore his human form. However, adverse circumstances prevented him from using this simple remedy, therefore he had to endure a long series of asinine adventures, in which is body in the form of an ass, constantly suffered and his human mind even more tormented. Esoterically considered, this part of the tale means that his soul underwent the torments of the purifying fire, an inner purgatory so to speak, into which every soul must automatically step as soon as it starts to follow the narrow way of ascension toward perfection. Apuleius indicates the resulting inner transformation by the insertion of the story of Amour and Psyche, that the story itself is a complete initiation, yet especially by that part of the narrative in which Lucius resolves to sacrifice his life so as to save a virgin who had been kidnapped by robbers.
When his sufferings became unbearable, Lucius purified himself by submerging himself into the se seven times and invoked Isis to save him, This Great mother appeared and assured Lucius that while moved by his prayers, she at the same moment instructed her high priest to give him another chance to get to the much needed roses. Lucius ate the roses, was restored and in time, became an initiate of the Isiac mysteries. Apuleis does not however, explain what quality about the roses gives them this miraculous power, yet he probably presumed that the Arcanum, which was offered by the handmaid of a sorceress, yet to be verified by the goddess as well, was already known by his readers.
Therefore we have to take up Goethe, who reveals this Arcanum in the last act of his Faust. It is there, upon orders of Mephistopheles, that a bunch of minor devils gather to snatch away the departing soul of the dying Faust. However a choir of angels descends too, strewing roses toward the devils, chasing them back to hell and then carries the soul of Faust to its home, where “love guides lovers only.” The roses strewn by the angels are described to be of dazzling brilliance and distribute balsam that secretly enlivens. They are “flames that dispense love,” of the heavenly kind, yet are so hot that even Mephistopheles is concerned by them. His head, heart and liver are burning, and the “super diabolical,” influx, heats up his whole body. He asks in amazement, “Is this the element of love?” He curses the flames and the angels sing, “Holy glows! Around whom they hover feels blissful with the beatified.”
Thus Love, the Divine love, the cosmic power that moves the sun and the other stars (Dante) and which according to Plato, is the Physician of the Universe, giving the healing power to what the Rose symbolizes. Its application not only to healing or restoring the soul, but also for curing bodily ills, was a widespread belief in antiquity. Aelian recorded of the famous Aspasia, who later became Queen of Persia, that as a young girl she had a tumor on her face that became distorted. Aspasia was in despair until she saw in her dream a dove that told her to pulverize one of the roses that decorated the statue of Venus, but that had dried up, and apply this powder to the tumor. She did as the dove instructed her to and the tumor disappeared. Medical records of cures conducted by somnambulists explain the possibility of such a “miracle” in quite a natural way.
The story of Apuleius describes nothing supernatural or mysterious either, if only the reader knows what Rose means in esoteric symbolism. Therefore, let us continue the investigation in this direction.
The Zohar states, exactly on its first page, that the Rose is a symbol of Israel (in one sense, all initiates regardless of creed or nationality), and also that its five petals represent the five letters in the name of the Creator: ALYHM (Elohym). Furthermore, that these five petals refer to the five fingers with which the cup of the wine has to be lifted up when the blessing is said upon it, whereby it becomes like a rose and the “cup of salvation” (Ps. CXVI: 13), which carries the mystery of the Light that was created (“Let there be Light”) but after the creation was hidden again, for this Light is the seed, the divine fecundating principle that permeates the Rose and makes it fecund.
This is the concept of the Jewish Kabbala, yet it is also the generally accepted concept. For its presence is evident in the first chapter of John and can be checked up from the statements of other esoterists. Here is, for instance, Dante, who was not a Kabbalist, yet who first revealed the Rose as the prototype of the Collegium Spiritus Sancti (Israel in the sense of this term) in the XXX and XXXI cannons of his Paradiso. He places the Rose in the empyrean, “which is pure light, intellectual light full of love.” There he beheld “the one and the other militia of Paradise,” i.e., the angels and the beatified souls “of such from among the ours (di noi) who returned there.” Into that realm of light, a special light radiates that makes the Creator visible to the created, and it shines in a circle so wide that it would form a loose girdle around the sun. This is the “sempiternal Rose,” in the “yellow center,” of which is standing the “saint militia (ordo sanctissimus),” as a “convent of white stoles,” forming a “white rose.”
The divine intellectual light full of love, which is the fundamental trait of the Rose, is depicted too by another Rosicrucian who was also a Christian Kabbalist, Dr. Heinrich Khunrath of Leipzig, in his “Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae.” It is in the form of a pentacle, i.e. a whole doctrine symbolized in a single emblem, that covers two small folio pages, but
unfortunately for the present purpose it is packed so full with inscriptions that there is no space here for a complete description. It will be sufficient, however, for our purpose to state that the central figure of this pentacle is Jesus crucified, although the usual wooden cross is missing. But the figure has not on even the conventional loin cloth to indicate its entirely spiritual character, while the cruciform posture of the body of Jesus, upright and with horizontally extended arms and with one foot upon the other, signifies that for the spirit the flesh-body is the real cross.
The figure of Jesus is placed in the center of a flaming rose, the radiation of which distinctly shows five petals. Underneath the feet of Jesus, but still inside of the Rose, flies with spread wings and a tiara upon its head a flaming dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit. Inside of the rose around the body of Jesus a circle is drawn, the center of which is also the center of two other circles, one of which is larger than the other but both of them are luminous. The whole emblem represents, therefore, the creating Logos as a center that develops its circumferences, which are the three created worlds, Mental, Sidereal, and Elemental.
This pentacle of Khunrath covers the essential points given by the Zohar as well as by Dante concerning the Rose. As the Logos, Jesus is identical with the creating Elohim. The mystery of the creative Light, that fecundating principle that penetrates the Rose and gives it power, is indicated by the fact that the center of the three concentric circles, identical with the yellow of the Rose in which the white stoled militia is gathered, is precisely at the place of the generative organ of the Crucified. There is also the light intellectual, full of love, because the Logos as the second person of our Trinity, corresponds to the second person of the Jewish Trinity, who is the Second Sephira, Chochmah (i.e., Wisdom identical with the Sophia of the Gnosis), and because the divine love, symbol of the Holy Ghost, is the manifestation of the Divine Love.
For the individual seeker, who is sufficiently developed to be admitted into the convent of that white stoled militia, that intellectual light means illumination. And that plenitude of Divine Love means toward God direct recognition, while the love toward all beings in creation (love thy neighbor) that are less developed means compassion, the virtue of the gods, that gives at the same time to its possessor the greatest power a man could ever wield. For that power penetrates less developed souls and thereby conquers them. A very small degree of this power can be observed in the very successful pastor or priest and in doctors, whose sympathy toward the members of their congregation or their patients, establishes a soul communion with them, the consequence of which is full mutual understanding and the possibility to enter their souls and direct them or heal them from inside. It would be useless to try to explain the higher degrees of this power, for they could be practiced only by those who have already entered that grade of inner development to which direct cognition is granted. To this degree belongs the motto: “Summa scientia nihil scire,” and those upon whom this degree is conferred need no more outside information, for they are sealed with the seal of that Power that is symbolized by the unnumbered Tarot trump, The Foolish Man, the highest card in the whole deck.
The tribe of these wise fools is never numerous, but a closer investigation reveals that such of its members as continued contact with the outer world made a lasting impression upon the mentality of their era. They are samples, as it were, of the coming race, “futura gente” or as Dante calls them, supermen, but very different from the conception of Nietzsche. The type is presented most comprehensibly in the Parzival legend, which sprouted in the Vedas and soon branched out into numerous Germanic, Celtic, Romanic and other legends and folklore. And the quintessence of these was gathered into the sublime composition “Parsifal” of Richard Wagner, the text of which also written by the composer, indicates the qualification of the Graal-kings in special and of the Graal-knights in general. “Durch Mitleid wissend der reine Tor, harre sein’, den ich erkor.” Wait for (or: submit to) the pure fool who knows by compassion, whom I choose. These words appeared in glowing letters upon the Graal, announcing in its usual way the next King.
So purity and that superhuman wisdom that looks foolishness to the general run of mankind (1 Corinthians, II: 14), and that can be acquired only by compassion, these are the necessary qualifications to the Melchisedek-like king-priesthood. Neither is this just fiction. In about the same era Bernard of Clairveaux, sainted by Rome, the lawgiver of the white-mantled Templars of whom the Templeisen of the Graal were but the spiritualized types, also the outstanding leader of the thinkers of his time, demonstrated in actual life the qualifying traits mentioned. By purity and compassion, he merited the canonization, while the foolish brand of wisdom gained for him the intellectual leadership. For he claimed that, “Glowing is more than knowing.” (Sermon 3 in Nat. S. Joann.) And with that inner glow, product of the light intellectual full with fire, he defeated in a long “fight to the finish” the great scholar Abailard. Dante paid his homage by placing him in the last canto of the Paradiso at the apex of the hierarchy of the white stoled militia, where Bernard addresses to the Great Mother that peerless prayer, “Vergine madre, figlia del tuo Figlio,” O Virgin Mother, daughter of thy son.
It would be easy to make out a list of men who by integrity of character and deep mysticism in their philosophy could be well classed, with the triumphant militia of the white stoles, and the reader would find their names familiar. For all of them were prominent among the workers who developed the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome, and later on, the Renaissance. But the list would be long and space is short, so I prefer to show that the tribe is still with us. Lately, a scientist who is known to abhor interviews, granted one (Saturday Evening Post, October 26, 1929) and the opinions expressed there, show the marks of that tribe, although he probably does not know it. He is a physicist and mathematician, yet he likes daydreaming and thinks about his life in terms of music. He is a star of first magnitude in his strictly positive lines of science, yet does not hesitate to declare, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Although not tainted by any conscious esoterism (for unconsciously he must be nearer than any other contemporary scientist to the doctrines of our Tradition), he firmly believes in intuitions and inspirations, confesses to have been much profited by them, also that sometimes he feels to be right before he knows it. Last but not least, he is a good Jew, yet confesses his glowing admiration for Jesus, whose personality he finds inseparably impressed upon the sayings of the Nazarene, which are all pulsating with vitality, and while others may have said the same things, “no one has expressed them as divinely as He.” And here is another mark of the tribe. Told that his most important discovery just confirms what Thomas Aquinas had already stated, his answer is, “I have not read all the works of Thomas Aquinas, but I am delighted if I have reached the same conclusions as the comprehensive mind of that great Catholic Scholar.” By the way, his name is Albert Einstein.
His complex character must have puzzled somewhat the interviewer just as it surprises the reader. But George Sylvester Viereck, who could well handle the Kaiser, is an experienced scrutator of souls and quickly found the key to this enigma. What he found is of importance to our present subject matter too. He thus concludes his report on the interview: “Mrs. Einstein… adjusts herself to her husband with a tact that is rare in wives of great men. When he wishes to be alone, she completely eliminates herself from his life. She spares him disharmonious contacts and protects the serenity of his mind with the devotion of a vestal virgin guarding the sacred fire. It is by no means impossible that with a less sacrificing mate, Einstein would not have made the discoveries, which link his name with the immortals. Thus love, that moves the sun and all the other stars, sustains in its lonely path the genius of Albert Einstein. Here is a live reflex upon the material plane of that high sphere from which the Rose draws its powers that originate from the union of intellectual light and a plenitude of love.
There is even a third point in this interview that merits our attention. Not so many years ago the frank admission that intuition and inspiration are considered to be important factors by a physicist and mathematician, and the “sacrilegious” opinion that imagination counts more than knowledge, would have drawn the thunderbolts of the academies. Even William Crookes had to feel the wrath of these Olympians. Lately however, materialistic science had a surprising experience: like Einstein, it feels the truth before knowing it. It feels that the esoterists, even mystics, are not just visionaries but have a substantial foundation of real experiences in which hyperphysical laws of nature reveal themselves. For the latest scientific discoveries present facts that cannot be that cannot be well explained by the known laws of their science, and the mortality amidst the new hypotheses is something awful. So, they are forced slowly but irresistibly, to make some radical changes in their textbooks.
We esoterists are much interested to note that in psychology and even in physiology the importance of the Unconscious begins to be widely recognized. Many admit now that in the Unconscious is occulted the transcendental personality, which, while unconscious to us, is fully conscious of itself, has superior healing capacity as revealed in somnambulism, and is endowed with clairvoyance, clairaudience, and even to a certain extent with the gift of prophesy. The logical conclusion from this recognition is, that it is highly desirable to complete the faculties of the conscious mind with these endowments of the Unconscious. And when this conclusion will be drawn and followed up, academic science will enrich itself by rediscovering the treasures of Ancient Thought, while on the other hand, esoteric truth will be made more comprehensible by its adjustment to modern mentality and will spread more quickly by its application to practical purposes by modern science.
Here is an example of how this mutual understanding and assistance may work out. Apuleius states that, as a consequence of a mistake in the selection of the unguent Lucius was transformed into an ass. Apuleius knew precisely what he was talking about, as becomes evident when the title of his book is considered: “Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass.” Initiates knew at once what kind of metamorphoses would happen and why his ass was not just a common but a golden ass. But how far could the modern scientist, even if superficially acquainted with esoteric tenets, follow the author? He would see that there could have been no mistake about the selection of the unguent. For all these old unguents, analyzed chemically long since, had for their essential part, some strong narcotics, and all narcotics have essentially the same effect; they permit the Unconscious to intrude the conscious mind and exalt it. Nowadays it is common knowledge too that the trend of such mental exaltation, and consequently the nature of the visions that originate from it, depends upon the intent that the opium-smoker or the hashish-eater impressed upon his own mind before taking the narcotic.
Scientists versed in psychoanalysis might go a step further and explain how it could happen that Lucius, who certainly intended to become a bird, believed and visualized himself in the trance produced by the unguent to be an ass. It is this way. The conscious intent of Lucius was to become a bird. But his subconscious, that just at that time had been often gratified by the amatory escapades of the youth, intended to continue these gratifications and, being the stronger, its intent prevailed and Lucius turned into an ass, i.e. an animal well equipped by nature to satisfy priapic passions. Apuleius even makes a hint in this direction. This predomination of the intent of the subconscious against the intent of the conscious is frequently observed by psychoanalysts, and it often occurs in alchemy too, especially if the inner purification is not radical; it must always have been so, for already Norton warned the alchemist in his Ordinale that the intent of the two parts of the mind should agree on the purpose of the work, otherwise all efforts would be in vain.
But even the most versatile scientist could hardy follow Apuleius any further and elucidate why the metamorphoses to which this asinine transformation gave the first impetus are not effective upon any common ass but only upon a golden ass. Although a doctor who uses psychoanalysis in psychotherapy could easily point out scores of recorded clinical cases in which asinine promiscuity made people of both sexes not only sick but also more or less insane, and by continued “fight to a finish,” between their predominant instinct ego on the one and their reason plus moral ego on the constantly losing side, made them live in such an inner hell, with which not only the ass-adventures of Lucius but even the hottest hells depicted in the pulpits look like Kindergarten plays.
Apuleius, however, was correctly representing the procedure of nature when he submitted to the punishment the body of the ass and tormented the human mind with the consciousness of an incarceration and consequent impotency of the soul, which was more severe and humiliating than the former confinement in a human body. Lucius was a Son of Light, essentially purified during former incarnations (a status recognized in fraternities that accepted the sons of their adepts without the usual probation) and he made just a misstep that did not incapacitate him permanently. The duress of the humiliation should push him to maximal efforts to find means for liberation, and during the tension of such efforts intuition was expected to help him discover in his own wild ass, the latent golden ass. Which means: to find in his own generative faculty, misled by sensual satisfactions, the latent divine creative energy, the golden-yellow center of the Rose, called by alchemists the seed of gold, which, when aroused and further developed, will restore his original human form, which is the status of Adam before the fall. Eating roses, i.e. methodical attraction of the Rose energy, will perform the metamorphoses that finally transmute the wild ass into the chaste but powerful unicorn, symbol of Jesus to the churches, and a symbol of the inner Immanu-El for the Rosicrucian. The unicorn, that alchemical symbolism depicts as resting under the rose tree and the Royal Arms of Great Britain as supporter of the Empire. The motor that furthers these metamorphoses is the alleged asinine stupidity, technically termed sometimes “ignorance” or “foolishness,” that inner glowing (for our Cause or just sincere unselfish patriotism) that includes knowing, the know-nothingness that means direct cognition.
The metamorphoses indicated by Apuleius are the very same which were allegorically described by Homer, Virgil, Ovid, the Graal legends, Dante and in the early Faust legend. The same essentials clothed in diverse forms by which they were always adjusted precisely to the mentality of their own era. Until in our era, they burst out again with increased brilliancy to appeal to modern mentality, in the Faust of Goethe and in the Parsifal of Wagner.
For while Tradition never varies in essentials, the form of expression of its tenets is always progressive and is always adjusted in the volume and in terminology of its revelations to the prospective receivers and their respective capacity. So let us not war on words, but sincerely rejoice that electricity, used already on Solomon’s Temple and in the descending fires that consumed the burnt offerings upon the altars of some prophets, finds now a much more general and practical application; that the dream of Icarus and quite a few others on record came true in our flying machines, that the demons of Socrates and Paracelsus, with the persecuted familiar spirits of witchcraft, are recognized as the transcendental in the unconscious, potentially present in each of us, that the guardian angel is renamed in our psychologies the “moral ego” that the devil still fights in us, renamed “instinct ego,” that our inner planets are recognized now medically as glands, that Carl du Prel confirms mysticism with the doctrine of Darwin; that the cosmology of Thomas Aquinas is confirmed by Einstein, and that Einstein finds the sayings of Jesus not only vibrating with personal vitality but also divine. And so forth and on.
The present Renaissance (or Reformation, or Revolution, for it has the characteristics even if not the names of these three capital R’s) in which our era travails more vehemently than any other era of history, surely will excavate more Old Thought the union of which with New Thought will fecundate exoteric and esoteric sciences alike, and will give to the progress of the race a fresh momentum so intense as never was experienced before.
Let us rejoice in the expectation, but let us also do our bit to increase this momentum and to hasten the spiritual dawn, when the importance of love toward God and fellow creatures shall fully materialize and bring forth the real inner and outer peace on earth and a sincerely altruistic good will among men. When our happy children’s-children, freed from the dogmatism with which religion and materialistic science shackle their forefathers, will smilingly remember the Batrachomyomachia between fundamentalists and liberals, and consider Kellog-pacts, disarmament conferences, etc., as tottering first steps by which the coming race learns to walk.
Let us recognize the wild asses in ourselves, then do our best to metamorphose them into Christ-like unicorns. Tradition holds the full information as to what has to be done for this sublime purpose, also concerning the means how to attract influxes of that divine love-energy that vivifying pulsates through the universe, and develops Roses wherever minds and hearts are properly prepared and purified for them.